The performance of a laparoscopic inguinal hernia repair requires unique technical and cognitive skills which, until recently, were not routinely taught to general surgeons. The initial experience of three surgeons with laparoscopic hernia repair was audited prospectively to assess the learning curve for the technique. From March 1992 to June 1994, transabdominal preperitoneal (TAP) mesh repair was attempted on 172 consecutive inguinal hernias. Three procedures were converted to traditional repairs. The three independent surgeons that performed the repairs had minimal or no prior clinical experience with the technique in the role as primary surgeon. The hernia repairs were divided into two groups. Group 1 consisted of the first 90 hernia repairs in the series, 30 repairs per surgeon. This group was compared to the subsequent 82 repairs (group 2), approximately 27 repairs per surgeon. Patients were followed up for a median of 31 months. Group 1 had more patients who were hospitalized overnight (37% versus 31%), a greater rate of conversion (2.2% versus 1.2%), a higher complication rate (11.7% versus 0%), a higher recurrence rate (12.2% versus 0%), and a longer delay in the return to full activity (11 weeks versus 8 weeks). Also, overall patient satisfaction with their hernia repair was slightly greater in group 2 (score, 9.0/10 versus 8.2/10). The lack of prior experience with the TAP technique (one surgeon) was associated with a marked increase in the number of conversions (two of three total conversions), complications (four of eight total), and hernia recurrences (8 of 11 total). This study demonstrates that a surgeon's initial experience with laparoscopic herniorrhaphy is associated with an identifiable learning curve. Significant improvements in complication and recurrence rates and overall patient satisfaction can be expected after the initial learning phase. Also, a complete lack of prior experience with laparoscopic herniorrhaphy is associated with a higher rate of conversion and significant increases in complications and hernia recurrences.